Do you find that our digital natives are less likely to want to read longer texts? What strategies do you use to get them to focus?
Tara, Science in the City:I definitely see a shift. Students have often had trouble focusing, but I think it is an increasing problem.
I don’t have a great answer, but some strategies that I try to utilize are: chunking the text, reading with a partner, annotating as you read, or giving questions for focus as you read. These seem to help break up the task a bit and keep students focused.
Ellen Weber:My students dislike reading either digital or hard copy when a text lacks relevancy to their lives or interests. The opposite is also true. They enjoy reading texts that challenge both their intellect and emotions, in ways that seem meaningful to them. That’s why I encourage both. To extend text into action though, I ask two-footed questions.
One foot asks: What are the main points, functions or problems? – which invite students to consider, compare or analyze content. The answers to one-footed questions provide facts to engage, but fail to engage the learner’s interest to apply innovations that draw on these facts.
Foot two asks: … how will these facts jumpstart your own actions? You could say that the second foot jump starts adventure. For example, I might start a lesson by naming a key action of a main character and then ask students, “What would you have done differently and why so?” That question gets the most reluctant readers into digital or hard copy passages in ways that challenge them personally to make a difference. It’s simply a matter of offering an opportunity to play with, What if possibilities, that woo readers into more relevancy.
Clair, High School English on a Shoestring Budget: I do think attention span is an issue, possibly because of my students’ time reading bits and bytes in digital formats. There were two strategies I found in my classroom that were most successful at keeping students’ attention through the text. The first was reading questions that included a variety of questions from basic recall (often of key information for later– some caught on to this!) as well as analysis and inference. The other was reading the texts to my students. I read to them, partly because we had a single set of classroom texts and did not give homework (as it never came back.) It also allowed me to reach my auditory learners well, and it seemed either I had quite a few auditory learners and/ or they just enjoyed me reading to them as the vast majority appreciated being read to (and the remainder never complained.) I did not assign readers, though, just handle it myself. Which also allowed me to stop the text at various points and ask questions, point things out, and otherwise discuss with them as we read. Using the reading questions while I read allowed also ensured no one was “listening’ with their eyes closed. While this may not work for every text in every class, I do think there is value in selecting certain texts to read aloud to the class, stopping to discuss and/ or using reading questions while they just listen.
Sara, Ms. Fuller’s Teaching Adventures:I’m not entirely convinced the lack of interest in longer texts is related to digital issues or all that different than it was in the past. Students just don’t like reading what they “have” to read and they don’t like having to take a lot of steps to accomplish something.
I have found, however, that the more engaged with a topic the students are, the more likely they are to actually read it. I try to find relevant topics for my students to read about. I do, of course, also go over reading strategies to help them navigate difficult texts.
Jackie, Room 213: I find that regardless of interest, they are less able to concentrate. I’m less able to concentrate on long texts than I once was, before all of the distractions of the Internet, phones and tablets came along. I find that I can no longer sit and read for hours without checking my email or looking up something that I wonder about while reading. Now that doesn’t mean that focus and concentration is not an important skill, but we just need to be aware that most of our students are not as good at it as we were at the same age.
One thing I’ve done to try to adapt to these digital natives is to use a class website that hosts notes and extra information on whatever it is we are studying. They are more likely to read the notes on their screens than a handout that has no pictures or hyperlinks. I also post short and engaging articles for them to read and respond to on our blog. They like to discuss the issues with each other in this format so it’s a great addition to what we are already doing in class.